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Billy Joel Has Been Writing New Music, but No Words

Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images

Billy Joel hasn’t released an album in more than two decades, leading many to assume he’s retired from making music. Turns out he’s been composing a song cycle of instrumental pieces over the past 10 years — though none of them has been written down.

In fact, as Joel tells the New Yorker‘s Nick Paumgarten, he’s at risk of forgetting some of them. So far, these tracks — which are sometimes referred to as ‘The Scrimshaw Pieces’ and are meant to tell a loose history of Long Island — have been played for only a handful of visitors to his home. “Some could be songs,” Joel said. “Some could be ideas for a soundtrack or something. Some are more like hymns.”

There are, however, no words. And there aren’t any plans to follow up 1993’s ‘River of Dreams,’ Joel’s last studio project. He’s continuing a monthly residency at Madison Square Garden, but otherwise he’s largely absent from pop music.

“I’m not crazy about going into a recording studio and doing that kind of life again,” the 65-year-old singer said, “or taking on another project where there’s other people involved — arrangers and orchestrators and conductors and producers. I don’t want to deal with it … You have to have a certain amount of ambition to want to do all that. And I look back at the guy who was the recording artist, this Billy Joel guy, and I think, Who the f— was that guy? He was very ambitious, very driven, and I don’t feel like that anymore.”

Joel’s lone new song since ‘River of Dreams’ was the lushly orchestrated single ‘All My Life,’ which he recorded for his then-wife Katie Lee and released on Valentine’s Day 2007. Joel — who won the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song this past summer — has reportedly rebuffed several offers to record standards-focused projects.

Next: Top 10 Billy Joel Love Songs

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